205. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

970. Joint appraisal by British colleague and me of Israel’s present attitude to Arab-Israel problem and suggestions which might reduce short-term risk of war bring forth following conclusions arrived at with due reservations as to danger of prophecy in this area and fact there are sharp divergencies of opinion within government and opposition. They believed to represent current views of majority of Cabinet including Prime Minister. British Ambassador sending in [Page 379] similar but not identical statement yet we are in complete agreement on basic principles as reported.

Israelis believe settlement with Arabs not possible for long time. Basis their belief not merely that gap between parties too wide to be breached by negotiations under present conditions but conviction that Arabs, from present position of strength, desire no settlement or at best one on terms which would facilitate subsequent destruction of Israel and which would demand all or at least major concessions be made by Israel.
Israel distrusts Anglo-American moves for settlement because they fear:
That western strategic interests (including oil) and concern over pushing Arabs into Soviet arms will load the dice heavily against Israel;
That west is deliberately forcing Israel into position of agreeing to settlement from position of weakness from which they would grant concessions which would move Arabs to settlement table;
That Arabs will procrastinate indefinitely in knowledge that their strength is increasing and in belief that west will not wish reduce the chances of settlement by arming Israel;
That west has miscalculated regarding Nasser’s intentions and under-rate the force of his expansionist propensities.
They regard action under tripartite declaration or UN as affording inadequate protection against Arab aggressions; are convinced that help, if it comes at all, will come too late; are unconvinced that any direct and immediately effective program for action directed at aggressor and for protection of injured party prior to serious destruction by aggressor has been set up; now that USSR has announced reaction to western intervention in area, believe that UN or tripartite powers program would not be directed at Arabs even if latter clearly aggressors or if Arabs conceal an aggressive initiative responsible for Israel’s retaliatory action. Specifically, they see in neither declaration or UN protection for Israel against Egypt’s jet bombers of Soviet origin.
Israel confident can defeat Arab attack if comes within few months or hold one up until end of year if Soviet arms not effectively absorbed by Egyptians. Date possible Egyptian attack not firmly stated here but highest GOI officials talk in terms of July and coming summer.
Israel accepts reluctantly that victorious war, which militarily might be possible, would achieve only temporary respite and idea of deliberate preventive war has been shelved. However, in present mood Israel may well react strongly to Arabs renewed use of Fedayeen tactics, to essential military acts such as “push up” in border incidents including Tiberias and Banat Yaacov attacks, to [Page 380] heavier encircling military build-ups on Egypt’s border, to any unusual air threats, or to further interference with Israel shipping. Of these, Fedayeen and Banat Yaacov presently most sensitive.

They believe unless present trends reversed Arabs will attain sufficient military superiority capable destroying Israel; fear Arab tendency to shift from under- to over-confidence leading to guerrilla and other harassing activities on Israel’s long exposed frontiers thus making life unbearable; do not exclude possibility Nasser using preponderant air power, then withdrawing his troops to west side Suez.

Feeling they must maintain present moral superiority and establish determination to survive, Israel believes it must react firmly and if necessary violently to breaches of GAA and cannot afford surrender to area pressure on disputed points; the smaller her chances of adding military strength the more she thinks in terms of intransigence, and although recognizing this may increase short-term danger war, considers it offers only hope of avoiding war for considerable period. GOI prepared to accept this short-term risk.

Israel does not want war; much prefers peaceful settlement outstanding problems from which present tensions derive, but visualizes no early prospects for peace settlement. Israel does not want arms race but wants sufficient arms protect self during initial period of attack and until international agencies can effectively prevent further aggression against her.
In judgment British Ambassador and myself, short-term risk of war might be effectively reduced by following immediate actions:
Granting Israel’s request for arms in minimum quantities of high quality arms and equipment including supersonic planes. This action might be accompanied with Israeli commitments to assure use for defensive and possibly assurances her behavior pattern concerning cooperation with UNTSO, issue Gulf of Aqaba and other outstanding problems.
Providing evidence Western powers have set limits to extent to which Arabs will be allowed to further exploit Soviet bogey.
Shift present emphasis by US and UK effort toward voluntary settlement to applying measures to prevent war. Sales of arms to Israel might increase Arabs opposition to settlement; on other hand present suspected uses of arms embargo to force her to make concessions increases Israel’s resistance to settlement. Risk of war is at present much greater than chances of settlement. Therefore seems to us there is strong case for concentrating on prevention of war.
Exert constant pressure on both Arabs and Israel to convince them that hostilities arising out of unreasonable actions on their part, not merely those classifiable as direct military aggression, will lead to Western intervention.
Present to Israel and Arabs clear and strong evidence Western powers have immediate effective instruments for carrying out intervention and determined to use them.
Obvious detailed blueprint cannot be made public but program should be made unmistakably clear in as definite terms as possible and announced steps of action should give undoubted assurance that aggressor will be designated and done so immediately following condemnable action whether directly or indirectly responsible for hostilities.
Insistence on complete compliance by all parties to all provisions GAA.
Insist on free movement for UN observers to permit observation and fixing of blame at time of incidents rather than afterward. Further supporting details being submitted in despatch.2 In view possibility settlement Banat Yaacov problem by practical Israel and Jordan programs under basic terms Johnston Jordan River plan yet without involving their formal acceptance as such at this time (see Embtel 9603), problem not discussed therein. British Ambassador agrees our recommended approach reference telegram.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86/3–2056. Secret. Received at 1:11 p.m. Repeated to London and Paris.
  2. Reference is to despatch 583 from Tel Aviv, March 21. (Ibid., 684A.86/3–2156)
  3. Not printed. (Ibid., 684A.85322/3–1756)